Ato Essandoh, Tom Weston-Jones and Kyle Schmid

New York City in 1864 was no place for a wimp. In BBC America's Copper, the latest collaboration from Oz and Homicide vets Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, the Civil War-era town is a boiling stew of impoverished immigrants, uptown power brokers, vicious gangs, freed slaves and Confederate spies.

Copper "is a sandwich of crime drama, historical drama and family drama," says Tom Weston-Jones (MI-5), who stars as detective Kevin Corcoran, an ex-boxer recently back from the Civil War. "The shocking and quite funny first few scenes totally set the flavor for the whole series," says the English actor, who is making his American TV debut. In other words, don't expect perps to be read their rights by these coppers, who tend to shoot first then pocket the loot. But under his bravado, Corcoran is burdened by a great loss. While away at war, his young daughter was killed and his wife disappeared.

"Kevin is an incredibly flawed but moral hero," explains Weston-Jones. He's a man who loves his whiskey, ladies of the night — particularly well-informed madam Eva Heissen (Franka Potente of Run Lola, Run fame) — and his rough Five Points neighborhood. In a sea of Confederate plots and virulent racism, he works to "keep the New York powder keg from exploding" with fellow detectives Maguire (Kevin Ryan) and O'Brien (Dylan Taylor) and his Union Army comrades, wealthy amputee Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid) and Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), an African-American doctor.

Copper airs Sundays at 10/9c on BBC America.

Check out TV Guide Magazine's Cubicle Confessions with Copper's Weston-Jones, Essandoh and Schmid: